With a series of morale-boosting performances in their pre-season friendlies, Delhi Dynamos will hope to continue that form into the 2016 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament.
They started off their friendlies on a rousing note with a 2-1 victory over Sweden’s Skene IF before going down fighting 0-1 to Englsih Premier League (EPL) outfit West Bromwich Albion following a heroic performance.
Their final couple of friendlies were also against Swedish clubs, a 2-2 draw against BK Hacken and a 3-2 win over Assyriska BK.
Delhi’s form over the pre-season will give their fans hope for the new season. But they will be wary of dreaming too much as the Dynamos have a tendency of flattering to deceive.
They started off well during the inaugural season in 2014 before finishing fifth. Delhi put in another creditable performance last year, reaching the semi-finals before suffering a 1-3 hammering at the hands of Goa.
Delhi’s solitary goal victory over FC Goa gave them a real edge going into the crucial second leg semi-final but Carlos lost his battle against another Brazilian great, Zico, for a place in the final.
That must have disappointed the former Brazilian defender and his team, and Delhi will now be keen to go at least one step further this season.
Carlos has not returned for a second stint in the ISL but Delhi Dynamos have nothing to worry. They have replaced the former Brazil international and among the world’s best left-backs with another legend: Gianluca Zambrotta.
The full-back was Italy’s star player at the 2006 World Cup which Italy won and was even included in the Team of the Tournament. That wouldn’t count for anything when the ISL kicks off, but unlike his predecessor he has coaching experience, having managed Swiss second tier side FC Chiasso.
To expect Zambrotta to deliver straightway will be unfair but such is the nature of the ISL that an early kick-start is needed to lay the foundation for qualification.
Unlike last year, when Delhi Dynamos retained just one foreign player from the previous season, it has done well to retain its best performers from beyond Indian shores. Goalkeeper Toni Doblas was the star and has been handed a new contract.
Then, there is striker Richard Gadze who did not exactly set the charts on fire but his previous ISL experience can come in handy. Former France star Florent Malouda was one of the best performers in the league last season and Delhi fans will be hoping for an encore this time as well.
Malouda will again be needed at his awesome best to propel Delhi. He will be joined by former Chennaiyin FC midfielder Bruno Pellissari and the Brazilian youngster has proved in the previous two editions that he can be more than a handful for the opposition.
Senegalese Ibrahima Niasse, Spaniard Marcos Tebar and Brazilian Memo are the other foreign midfield options, while from among the domestic players Zambrotta can show faith in Denson Devadas, who was an important player for FC Goa last season, Milan Singh or Kean Lewis.
Given the tight ISL schedule, gauging their true level may not be possible until the first few matches. Their main aim for this season is to upgrade their options at the back and make up for the departure of former Liverpool defender John Arne Riise.
Zambrotta, their Italian coach, being a former defender himself, will no doubt lay greater emphasis at the back and he will be assured by the presence of former Real Madrid defender Ruben Gonzalez. Ghanaian international left-back David Addy, Anas Edathodika, Shouvik Chakravorty and promising talent from the north-east like Lalchhawnkima and Lalruatthara make up for plenty of options among the back four.
Even up front, Delhi look more than decent. With Gadze’s return, they have a striker who understands the ISL and has a proven scoring record and he is expected to link up with Badara Badji, the Senegalese international.
Arjun Tudu, who attracted attention during the Santosh Trophy for Services and even received a national call-up, can prove to be the surprise package.
On the evidence of Delhi’s pre-season friendlies, the team has promise and they have never looked so assured before start of an ISL season.
May be it is time for Delhi to deliver. It remains to be seen whether they have it in them to go the extra mile.
Goalkeepers: Soram Poirei Anganba, Sanjiban Ghosh, Toni Doblas
Defenders: Ruben Gonzalez Rocha, Anas Edathodika, Lalchhawnkima, Lalruatthara, Chinglensana Singh, David Addy
Midfielders: Rupert Nongrum, Souvik Chakraborty, Marcos Tebar, Baye Ibrahima Niasse, Samir Nabi, Denson Devadas, Amoes, Kean Lewis, Florent Malouda, Bruno Pelissari, Memo, Milan Singh
Forwards: Marcelinho, Arjun Tudu, Richard Gadze, Badara Badji
Coach: Gianluca Zambrotta